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A history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) online

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anapaestically is averted, still more ; so that you almost
feel inclined to give it (as the first instance seems actually



to crave) the value of three monosyllabic feet, in order to
put a stronger drag than ever on the run of the weary
trochees in the first.^
and^some live g^^ with Others that cheering reflection returns which
comforted the company, depressed by stories of Yellow
Jack and the like. " The Major is alive," — there are
still many of them — many majors — to salute, while those
who are not saluted need not think themselves treated as
minors. Mr. Bridges first, of course ; nor do I know how
to be sufficiently grateful to him, either for giving me
many years of satisfaction with his admirable practice in
orthodox verse, or for sparing me the necessity of dealing,
except lightly and indirectly, with what seem to me his
less admirable principles and experiments in innovation.
I have spoken of some others under " The Forms," and
need only here reiterate the welcome which all good
judges have given to Mr. Dobson's craftsmanship in less
exotic matters, and particularly to the manner in which,
in the country of Prior, he has borne the succession of
Praed, If it be true that the soul is a harmony — a
dictum which seems to have disturbed Lucretius unneces-
sarily,for certainly his was harmonic enough — the dominant
of Mr. Kipling's soul is no doubt the anapaest ; as is well
seen of the " Ballad of East and West " and the fight of
the three Sealers. And as for Mr. W. B. Yeats, he is
perhaps the capital example of an undoubted poet who
has tried to wriggle himself, by fantastic will-worship of
prosodic will-o'-the-wisps, into the unpoetical — and has
failed. My friend Mr. Omond has asked whether such a
line as that in The Shadowy Waters —

The mountain of the gods, the unappeasable gods,

is metrical ? I reply securus, " Why, certainly. Palpable
Alexandrine " ; and you can generally stow away an
Alexandrine anywhere. Prosody, like the excellent
woman's children in George Eliot, " can do with an extry

* Some additions to this list have been suggested to me, and more have
suggested themselves. But after trial, and more than one alteration of mind,
I have regretfully decided to leave it as it is. For a mere catalogue would be
idle and provoking, and there is no room for anything more.

CHAP, n OTHER POETS OF 1S50-1900 393

bit." There are few things more amusing to me than the
way in which she quietly defeats the efforts, of the wilful
ones who are hers, to escape her jurisdiction. As for the
others, what does it matter whether they tend to plaster-
cast grandiosity, or to Tennyson-and-water, or to mere
eccentrics ? But this will do, Mortalis immortales
salutat !



Hexametrists between Daniel and the mid-eighteenth century —
Goldsmith — Tucker and Herries — The German example and
its followers — The " accentual " form — Coleridge — Southey : his
discussion of the matter — The Vision of Judgment — Between
Southey and Longfellow — Evangeline — Clough : The Bothie —
His elegiacs, lyrics, etc. — Others — Cayley — Calverley — Kingsley
and his remarks on Andromeda — Andromeda itself — Its base
really anapaestic — Tennyson — Arnold and others — Mr. Swin-
burne — The last stage — Reversion to Spedding, etc. — Mr.
W. J. Stone — Mr. Bridges' experiments.

Hexametrists We left the attempt to reproduce classical metres, and
Daniel and the ^Specially the hexameter and the elegiac couplet, at the
mid-eighteenth point where it was temporarily extinguished by the utterly
century, crushing Criticism of Daniel, and (as far as dactylic verse

was concerned) hardly less by the arguments of Campion
himself. After this, for nearly two hundred years, the
whole matter lay practically in abeyance. Sporadic
attempts may be found noticed in Mr. Omond's books,
and elsewhere perhaps. Robert Chamberlain (a most
different person from the author of Pharonnidd) tried a
half-score of hexameters in 1638. Wallis in his Grammar
touches the subject by precept and example, and a quidam
named Hockenhull (1657) did as much as Chamberlain.
Watts's Sapphics have been dealt with ; I think Mr. Omond
is too hard on them. We do not, it would seem, know
who wrote A n Introduction of the A ncient Greek and Latin
Measures into British Poetry, which appeared in 1737,
and was probably a result of the same stirring of the



waters which produced Pemberton and Mainwaring, and
started the abundant if futile prosodic writing of the later
eighteenth century. This Anonym seems to have had no
ear/ and his rules are quite interestingly heterogeneous.
He believes in " quantity by position," but qualifies his
belief by quite arbitrary licences ; "' extends the true
dogma of the wide range of common quantity in English
to the utterly damnable doctrine and position that every
vowel is common ; and while condemning wrenching of
accent, wrenches it himself like a mountebank tooth-

As yet, however, the sturdy good sense of the eighteenth Goldsmith,
century kept off much serious dealing with these evil
spirits, while its rather deficient " curiosity " (in its own
sense) as to experiments of fine art, barred the thing like-
wise. It was not till a quarter of a century after the
Anonym that Oliver Goldsmith wrote his Essay ^ on
" Versification," in which some have seen a remarkable
thing. I hope I am not a Philistine, but I am bound to
say that, putting quite aside the question of agreement or
disagreement in opinion, I can see nothing in it beyond
Oliver's well-known sciolism, his ingenious journalist
instinct, and his faculty of redeeming everything that he
did with pervading charm of style and an occasional
corrective flash of genius. In this last respect the final
paragraph of the Essay to a great extent does redeem
the rest, though even here he goes wrong in supposing
English verse to have a fixed number of syllables. He
admits, however, a varied pause and cadence, as opposed

1 He thought Sidney, in his hexameters, quite as musical as Chaucer, and

A Deity gave us this leisure, O Meliboeus,

to be the kind of thing one could recommend to a friend.

- A vowel is to be short before eg, because these consonants are near akin.
Now there are few collocations which you can less easily take in your stride
than this, unless you mutilate one or the other sound.

^ " In Syrian Pastures." Having mislaid my notes on the book, I take
examples from Mr. Omond's account.

* Essay XVHI. Cowper's Sapphics (noticed, like Watts's, before) were
written much about the same time ; but were never published till after his


to French ; and his last sentence ^ by itself practically puts
the pen through all the earlier part of the paper. But this
begins with a repetition of the contemporary commonplace
about verse owing its origin entirely to the music with
which the first songs and hymns were accompanied,
whereas it is just as likely to have been the other way.
It continues with a little bit of snobbishness about
grammar and prosody (which he is handling at the
moment) being " the business of a schoolmaster rather than
the accomplishment of a man of taste." It calls rhyme
" a vile monotony," and returns to sanity with the state-
ment that it is ridiculous to assert that modern poetry has
no feet, but seems to apply that term only to collocations
of syllables ending, or coinciding, with the words.

He illustrates so little (from English, indeed, not at all),
and is so far from having cleared up his own mind on the
subject, that a hasty and non-expert reader might take
him as a rather oracular Moses or Columbus of prosody.
For he says that " Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Dryden,
Pope, and all our poets abound with dactyls, spondees,
trochees, anapaests," which they use indiscriminately.
But as he again and again repeats the limitation of syllables,
it is clear that he only meant that whereas the ancients
" were restricted to particular kinds of feet " in epic, pas-
toral, etc., the English poet can choose his metre, and
that his words form combinations grouped in different

The gist of the Essay is undoubtedly to recommend
English hexameters ; and he mentions Sidney's, but in so
curious a fashion that one very much doubts whether he
had ever read them, certainly quoting none and giving
them no direct praise at all. He says he has " seen several
later specimens of hexameters [it has been asked where? —
probably the Anonym's] and Sapphics" [doubtless Watts's],
and finds them " as melodious to the ear as the works of
Virgil or Anacreon or Horace." It may seem illiberal,
but I fear it is not unjust, to ask where Anacreon {i.e. the

' "The Greek and Latin languages . . . are susceptible of a vast variety
of cadences which the living /a//r:taoes will not admit.''''


pseudo-Anacreon) has left us either Sapphics or hexa-
meters ? Indeed this probably gives the key of the whole
Essay, as one of the ingenious conmpositions, not quite
unknown 150 years later, where the composer plays an
extensive series of fancy - variations on a very small
modicum of positively secured knowledge, or of definitel)-
formed opinion.

Ten years later Tucker and Herries {v. sup. vol. ii. Tucker and
p. 546) touched the matter. The former, like the
Anonym, has a quasi-quantitative system ; Herries is
frankly accentual. Brains kept the former pretty straight
in part,^ while music led the latter almost wholly wrong.
His Sapphics are fair " Needy Knife-grinder," that is to
say, they quite alter the Greek and Latin rJiythm ; but
his hexameters are purely atrocious,^ this being partly due
to the fact that, as he frankly acknowledges, he knew
nothing of classical prosody, and so was going in the

But I do not think that the definite turn to English The German
hexameters which began towards the close of the centur}^, fts^fo^ji'o^yers^
and which has at intervals been continued for more than
a century since, can be traced, in any appreciable degree,
to these "sports" of earlier eighteenth -century study or
attempt. The English hexameters, which William Taylor
began, which Coleridge took up as a passing amusement,
and which Southey, pretty clearly representing the same
influence, greatly dared in the Visioti of Judgment later,
were undoubtedly due, in the first, and, to my thinking, by
far the greater place, to disgust with the couplet, in the
second to the German experiments in the actual hexa-
metrical form, German is a language of almost wholly
accentual prosody ; ^ Coleridge, as we have seen, never — in
principle — got out of the accentual slough ; while Southey,

' But only in part, for I cannot accept

A spirit internal penetrates through earth and ocean

as anything at all but prose with a needless inversion.

■^ Fancy "Thee, lovely partner, thee," being taken on any principles as =
three English spondees !

■* If this ("stress" being substituted for "accent" if any one pleases) had
been more generally remembered, it would have been better.

tual " form.


as almost everything in his Preface shows, and as I shall
hope shortly to expound from it, knew perfectly well
the limitations of possibility in his attempt, though he, I
think unwisely, dared them. Now the hexameters of this
period have practically governed the various further revivals
of the experiment since, either by the way of imitation or
by that of revolt. Longfellow, Clough in part, Kingsley
in the one Pyrrhic victory of the form, and others, have
directly followed Southey and Coleridge, while the so-
called or so-self-calling " quantitivists," ^ who seem to me
to violate every principle of English quantity and English
verse at once, from Cayley to the late Mr. Stone, and
" some not late," have usually taken this type as something
from which to be different. A very few persons, of whom
Tennyson is the most considerable instance," have endea-
voured to combine, and in some degree succeeded in
combining, the two schemes.
The"accen- Now I disHkc and disallow the accentual hexameter,

welcoming it only when it is a half-unconscious trans-
foiga, and ceases to be dactylic and hexametrical at all,
becoming a plain English five - foot anapaestic, with
anacrusis and hypercatalexis, as in the ever-delightful
verse of Andromeda.^ But I am quite unable to agree
with Mr. Omond, and others of various sects, that it is " in
no sense " an equivalent of the ancient hexameter. Whether
it is an equivalent of that hexameter as it sounded to
Pericles or to Cicero I cannot say, because, as I have had
once or twice regretfully to remark, I am profoundly
convinced, after considering everything that has been
advanced by modern " reformers," that we do not in the
least know what that sound was. But I know what the
sound to me of the average Latin hexameter — the Virgil

^ How they get " quan/'///z'f? " I have never known, or been able to find
out, on either Latin or English principles.

2 Considerable in position. Lancelot Shadvvell [v. inf.) is the most con-
siderable in quantity of the other kind.

2 On the verse of Mr. Swinburne, who consciously wrote it thus, v. inf.
It may perhaps be barely desirable to observe that I use the term " accentual "
as the accepted opposite to "quantitative." / think mere accent as
inadequate for the scansion of Mr. Swinburne's and of Kingsley's verses of
this kind as of any other.


type — is; and I acknowledge that (with differences, advan-
tages, and drawbacks to be noticed presently in individual
cases) the average English accentual kind seems to me to be
inform^ a fairly adequate equivalent. Only, this equivalent
is in totally wrong material — material which rings false,
at every beat and echo, when the whole line, and several
lines, are taken together. Of the English quantitative
hexameter we may speak later. I shall only say here that
it seems to me not merely not to be an equivalent of the
ancient hexameter in any way, but to be the equivalent
of nothing at all except the most floundering and un-
rhythmical doggerel. But we must trace the history of
both kinds, in our usual way, before summing up in relation
to either and both of them.

Coleridge, here as elsewhere, has a Puckish or Lepre- Coleridge.
chaunish character about him, which is somewhat pro-
voking. Yet it is something of a document that his
practice in these things was evidently to him as much
a mere " experiment in metre " as those extremely in-
teresting fragments," undated, which make one rather
wonder whether he was quite so sure that Mr. Tennyson
was " out " as a metrist. Nor should we neglect the
avowedly burlesque Sapphics which he wrote for young
Gillman, in clear reminiscence of the " Knife-grinder "
itself, and the " weary way-wanderer " that it wickedly
worried. His hendecasyllables are very beautiful if not
rigidly exact ; ^ but then the hendecasyllable has nothing
in it at all alien from the true principles of English
verse, and is often hardly distinguishable from a rather
freely equivalenced and redundanced heroic. I see no

1 That is to say, I recognise, in the "accentual" English form, an
attempt to get four dactyls or spondees, one dactyl, and one spondee into a
line ; and I admit that, separately considered, the feet, at least sometimes,
sound like what they aim at.

2 Works, ed. Dykes Campbell, p. 470.

3 He took the liberty (strictly right in English prosody) of beginning with
a dactyl instead of a spondee, trochee, or iamb. But those who think scorn
of him for doing so should remember that there are such readings in Catullus
himself as

Est vehe\vc\.txi% dea ; laedere hanc caveto,

though of course I know that vehemens is often dissyllabic in value.


particular objection, though my general one remains
unaltered, to his well-known specimen hexameters and
elegiacs ; albeit, as he specifically called the latter " Ovid'xdin"
he should certainly have respected that poet's fancy for
the dissyllabic ending. But it is also quite clear from his
own description of it, in the exemplifying epistle to the
Wordsworths, as

a hop, and a trot, and a gallop,

that it was not a pure dactylic-spondaic measure that was
in his ears, but an anapaestic one with substitution. This
does " hop " and " trot " and " gallop " at pleasure : the
dactylic hexameter never " hops," and does not exactly
gallop ; it chiefly trots and canters. But Coleridge, I am
sure, was never wholly serious in this matter. He, like
everybody else, was sick of the stock couplet ; he liked
German ; he liked the classics — that was about the whole
of it. He never used the form on any large scale ; and he
never defended or even discussed it at any great length.
Southey : his On the Other hand, Southey, when, much later, he took

up the measure for serious use, treated the objections to
his attempt quite frankly. He has, I think, unknowingly
glanced at — though his expression is quite wrong — the
truth about the general failure, while he has, perhaps also
unknowingly, settled the hash of quantitative hexametrism,
in the sentence, " If it is difficult to reconcile the public
to a new tune in verse, it is plainly impossible to reconcile
them to a new pronunciation." With the self-styled
quantitative hexameter you must either have a new
pronunciation, or a mere ruinous and arrhythmic heap of

With the accentual it is at least not so ; but Southey
himself saw that it is exposed to other dangers, though
his formulation of them is, or seems to me, a mistake.
It is not so much a new tune as a new mode that it intro-
duces ; and to some of us that new mode is unconquer-
ably inharmonious, unless differentiated in the way I
have pointed out. He says that he has " substituted the
trochee for the spondee, a necessary alteration, because

discussion of
the matter.


the whole vocabulary of the language does not afford a
native spondee." I have already pointed out that this is
a mistake. But the fact is that it would matter nothing
if it were not. You do not necessarily — if you are wise
you do not usually — make single foot of single word.^
So again, when he says that he has " taken the licence
of not beginning every line with a long syllable." As a
matter of fact he has not taken this, and he could not
take it without destroying the measure. He revives the
curious old bugbear of the redundance of monosyllables,
and the paucity of polysyllables in English. That this
is, to say the least, exaggerated, I am sure. The persist-
ence of the exaggeration may be thought to give some
support to it. But the language that gave us, some
three hundred years ago —

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

and some thirty years ago —

How passionately and irretrievably,

can surely defend itself against the charge.

I believe that Southey, in his observations about the
trochee, has stumbled upon — though he has also stumbled
over, and gone on without perceiving it — the truth of the
whole matter as far as it will go in our direction. We
have dactyls as such in English — plenty of them isolated,
and innumerable numbers of them ready to be combined.
But by themselves, or with most other feet, they, in
English, " won't do " ; and they insist on changing them-
selves into fresh combinations of anapaestic character.
There is one exception as far as feet go, and that is the
trochee. You can make combinations of dactyl and
trochee in English — one of the best known, and much the
best, being the very pretty use of the two in Kingsley's
" Longbeard's Saga," which is as graceful as possible,
though very slightly exotic. The dactyl also, used
sparingly, takes the place for substitution, in regular

> Even Guest never denied that two accented {i.e. "long") syllables
might come together at the end of one word and the beginning of another,
though his system required a pause between them.

VOL. Ill 2 D


trochaic measures, of the anapaest in iambic. But dactyl
and spondee will not combine in English gracefully : you
have only to compare the symbols tiwitity iunitum and
tmntity tumti to see, or rather hear, the difference.

Yet you cannot substitute trochee for spondee, and yet
keep the hexameter effect. Southey may talk about
trochees as much as he likes, but any one who will read
any example taken from him will find that they have to
be spondaised to get into the verse at all. Take his very
first line in the Vision :

'Twas at that sober hour when the hght of day is receding.

Now if you take them in themselves — a practice responsible
for many errors in prosody — "sober" and "light of" are
unexceptionable trochees enough. But if you endeavour
to value them as such in the line, with the resultant
consecutive swing, you will find that you have got three
almost unconnected syzygies ^ which make rocking-horse
curtseys and mocking mouths at each other, while they
ruin the run of the verse as a hexameter proper. You
must " bear up " the trochee into a spondee before you
get the effect at all ; though I do not say that even then
you get it very well. For then you encounter another
difficulty. You will not rid yourself of the separate effect
unless you can fix a strong purchase on the caesura-
syllables. An English hexameter, to be good even of its
bad kind, wants, unless it gives up the unequal conflict
and becomes frankly anapaestic, to run in something
like halves, to combine the old middle crease with the
continuous arrangement of the classical verse, which
naturally cannot always be done. In default you get
slippery, slovenly things that tickle the vulgar ear with a
sort of caressing novelty ; or jolting gangs of accent that
seem to be running a sort of donkey-race of cacophony.
You can only escape by the anapaestic door. Coleridge,
to return to him for a minute, in his own early experi-
ments knew, and could not but know, that his own verses
were " false metre " ; in fact he affirmed it with his usual

^ 'Twas at that sober || hour when the Hght of || day is receding.


coolness in one place, and might have done so much
oftener. When he is good he is anapaestic.^

Southey's own practice has the adequacy, within limits, riie vision of
which is the characteristic of all his poetical work, and J"'^S"'"'-*-
which here generally removes the metre, despite its
inherent defects, from the worst possibilities of those
defects. The third line of the Vision —

Fade like the hopes of youth, till the beauty of earth is departed,

is about as good average quality of this form as you will
find, and it has the proper run. On the other hand —

Lighten their heads in the silent sky from far Glaramara

has a double fault, splitting itself up as above described,
and (with or without compensation in '* far " according to
taste) shortening the first syllable of the beautiful mountain
name. But he seldom or never falls into the rickets
and the slip-slop which are the great curses of the style ;
and his use of pause in the verse, and stop or non-stop
at the end, of epanaphora and such-like devices to make
a verse-period, and of other things, is quite craftsmanlike.
Sometimes, indeed, he takes undue licences : I cannot on
any terms away with " conkror " for " conqueror " in the
last foot. But such things are rare ; and if any impartial
judge of verse, who has hitherto been prevented from
reading the poem by Byron's ridicule, dismisses that
prejudice, he will find it quite worth reading, though, if he
goes so far with me, he will probably go farther and wish
that it had been in any other metre.

Naturally, and quite independently of personal and Between
political rancour, the thing attracted much criticism. We ^^^ "[Iy^Ii
have already noticed (because they deal more with the
general than with the special side of the question) that of
Tillbrook (which was nearly the earliest, the most well-
informed, and the least one-sided), and that of the

^ I need only call interim attention to the importance, in this special con-
nection, of the fallacious opinion that whether you scan by dactyl or anapaest,

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 35 of 50)